Carli Lloyd’s fiance Brian wanted to come to Vancouver to see her play in the Women’s World Cup final. Lloyd told him to stay home.
He had to watch her score a hat-trick and lift the trophy on television instead.
“My fiance was coming, until I made sure he wasn’t. It’s just so demanding mentally – I feel more mentally zapped right now than physically,” Lloyd said after the match. “I want him here now to celebrate, but I just had to focus.”
Sunday was a rematch of the 2011 Women’s World Cup final, and a redemption story for the Americans, but all of that melted away as Lloyd put on the kind of performance that requires someone to be completely in the zone. What had gone before between these two teams didn’t matter in the end: Lloyd wrote her own history.
Buoyed by Lloyd running wild and free in the attack, USA stunned the Japanese. Lloyd scored three times in just 16 minutes to propel the Americans to a 5-2 win and their first World Cup in 16 years, their third overall.
Lloyd’s final goal of the evening was her most audacious, and encapsulated the hold the Americans had on the match. She noticed goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori way off her line, and launched the ball from just inside the Japanese half. Kaihori got her fingertips on it but it ricocheted off the post and in.
“Carli Lloyd? Give me a break,” said a gushing captain Abby Wambach, who plans to retire before the next tournament. “I’ve seen it first-hand how hard she works. She won us this World Cup.”
This wasn’t the first time Lloyd had punished Japan. In the 2012 Olympics, she scored both of USA’s goals to clinch the gold medal 2-1.
“She always does this to us,” Japan coach Norio Sasaki said. “In London, she scored twice. Today, she scored three times. So, we’re embarrassed, but she’s an excellent player.”
Lloyd’s first two goals at BC Place came from set pieces, but it wasn’t Japan’s lack of height that hurt them – it was poor defending from clever, low corners.
On her first, just five minutes into the match, Lloyd shook her defender and ran toward the near post to meet a low, driven ball with the outside of her foot. Two minutes later, defender Julie Johnston backheeled from another corner, and Lloyd smashed it home.
“I visualized playing in the World Cup final and visualized scoring four goals,” said Lloyd. “It sounds pretty funny, but that’s what it’s all about.”
Brush fires nearby left BC Place with a smoky haze that smelled like a bonfire and looked like smog, but USA coach Jill Ellis said there was something else in the air.
“There was this feeling – we just knew,” Ellis said. “I just [knew]that the players could deliver. I told them in the semi-final game that these players are born for big moments; this is what they relish. It doesn’t surprise me that as the games got harder, this team gets better.” Ellis also called Lloyd her “rock star”.
Lauren Holiday scored a beautiful 14th-minute volley off a loose ball that will be overshadowed by Lloyd’s dazzling performance. Tobin Heath added the US’s fifth and final goal of the match 10 minutes after the half.
Down four goals early, the Japanese paused, huddled and looked to regroup. They showed a brief hint that they might be able to work their way back into the match, Yuki Ogimi capitalising on some bad defending to score in the 28th minute.
“The US has studied and improved their set plays and we needed to account for that,” Sasaki said. “We needed to put more emphasis on attacks. We should’ve been more assertive and actively seek[ing]goals.”
But they couldn’t test USA goalkeeper Hope Solo enough, officially recording four shots on goal, but a couple of those saves barely stretched Solo. Japan’s second came from a Johnston own goal.
In an effort to reshuffle his deck, Sasaki used two of his substitutions before the 40th minute was up, bringing on veteran Homare Sawa, who finished her sixth and last World Cup in Japan’s loss.
Four years ago Japan and USA played to a 2-2 draw, and the Japanese clinched the world title in a penalty shootout. The Americans had been undefeated in 25 prior meetings with Japan going into that final when the Nadeshiko shocked the world.
The Americans exacted a form of revenge a year later, when they won the 2012 Olympics. But the Women’s World Cup tends to be viewed as the pinnacle by the American players, despite both tournaments featuring most of the same nations and players.
The prevailing storyline heading into the match was one of redemption and making up for a heart-breaking loss to Japan four years ago. But the team insisted they weren’t thinking about that. All they wanted was to add a third star above their crest.
“Not 1%,” Lloyd said when asked if she felt any sense of redemption. “It’s a World Cup final that we wanted to win, and it just happened to be against Japan.”
Going into Sunday’s final, both USA and Japan were unbeaten in Canada with USA ranked No 2 in the world compared to Japan, ranked fourth. Japan had only given up three goals in the entire Women’s World Cup going into Sunday’s rout, where they conceded five. It’s a grim statistic they will never forget.